The Arizona Wildcats have worked all six special teams disciplines in every practice for the last three weeks.
This week will be their toughest challenge yet - and not just because of USC's talent.
Trojans coach Lane Kiffin came under fire this week for a stunt the team pulled in last weekend's 50-6 win over Colorado.
Backup quarterback Cody Kessler spent the first half wearing jersey No. 35, the same as the Trojans' holder, and not his usual No. 6. Kessler ran in a two-point conversion while wearing the new number, but the play was called back because of a penalty.
Kessler switched back to No. 6 for the second half and played some garbage-time minutes at quarterback late.
The number-switch was perfectly legal. To some, however, the move marked some unnecessary gamesmanship - especially in a blowout.
Asked what he thought about it, UA coach Rich Rodriguez just chuckled.
"Does it surprise me? No. But it's within the rules, so we have to be ready for it," he said. "It doesn't matter whether it's a holder or an offensive tackle: When they do their extra points, you have to make sure you have the same number of people as they do so they don't trick you."
Expect more of the same this week: Kiffin and special teams coach John Baxter - a former UA assistant - told reporters this week that they'll continue to implement the number swaps. The tricks will be hard to track, especially since the Trojans don't wear names on the backs of their jerseys.
Rodriguez, for one, said he has an idea for their latest move: Put Kessler, and not starter Matt Barkley, under center to start the game.
"If they come out and somebody other than No. 7 is playing starting quarterback, that'd be a real trick," Rodriguez said. "I'd like to see that."
The last time
Cats were good, but USC was better, grabbed too big a lead to overcome
Date: Oct. 1, 2011
What went down: Matt Barkley threw for a school-record 468 yards and four touchdowns, Robert Woods caught 255 yards' worth of passes and USC rode a hot start to a 48-41 victory at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Turning point: USC's Curtis McNeal scored on a 9-yard touchdown run with 9 minutes 28 seconds remaining, giving the Trojans a two-touchdown lead. The score capped a five-play, 79-yard drive.
Stats that matter: The teams combined to score 89 points and gain 1,136 yards. UA quarterback Nick Foles was nearly as good as Barkley, throwing for 425 yards and four scores; he was intercepted twice. UA tailback Ka'Deem Carey posted 79 yards of total offense and scored a career-high three touchdowns. USC led 17-0 and 24-6 in the first half before the Wildcats made it a game late.
It's history: USC improved to 4-1 overall and 2-1 in the Pac-12 with its win. The Wildcats fell to 1-4 and 0-3; coach Mike Stoops was fired nine days later, following a loss at Oregon State.
Gigantic USC receivers
Tight ends give UA fits, Trojan pair frightening It's Halloween week and, fittingly, the Arizona Wildcats are doing battle with a two-headed monster.
USC tight ends Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer have both been solid, if unspectacular, through the Trojans' first seven games. But fuse the co-starters together, and you have one solid tight end (Xandall Grimfer?). The two have combined to catch 21 passes for 272 yards and five touchdowns this season.
Both are beasts. Grimble stands 6 feet 5 inches and 255 pounds; Telfer is an inch shorter but the same weight.
"They can eat peanuts off our guys' heads, they're so big," UA coach Rich Rodriguez said.
Don't be surprised if one, or both, has a season-best performance today. Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins caught eight passes for 110 yards and a score against the Wildcats last week, continuing tight ends' streaks of success.
Oregon's Colt Lyerla caught two passes for 53 yards against the UA in the teams' Pac-12 opener; a week later, Oregon State's Connor Hamlett caught the game-deciding touchdown.
Stanford's Levine Toilolo and Zach Ertz combined to catch 11 passes for 205 yards and two touchdowns when the teams met in Palo Alto.
The key to stopping tight ends, Arizona's players say, is to hit them at the line of scrimmage, slowing their routes, and gang-tackle them when they do make catches.
A good pass-rush also helps.
"We have to get our hands on them," safety Patrick Onwuasor said. "If we see them release, then they're going out for a pass. We have to be physical if we see them."
POLITICS AND SPORTS
Could tonight's result predict our next prez?
President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney remain dead-even in the polls, give or take a few points, with 10 days left before the 2012 election.
The result of tonight's UA-USC game could hint at the winner.
Consider: USC is 206-61-14 (.758) in presidential election years, while the Wildcats are 132-102-6 (.563). Arizona has a slightly higher winning percentage (.573) - and the visiting Trojans have a lower one (.700) - in presidential election years in which Democrats have won.
USC has been dominant in Republican-won years, winning 80.9 percent of its games (118-26-5). Arizona is 70-56-4, a .550 clip.
The Wildcats and Trojans have faced each other 10 times in election years dating back to 1920; perhaps not surprisingly, USC has won nine of the 10 matchups.
Since 1929, the Trojans have played in the Rose Bowl during the term of every U.S. president - except Obama's.
So what does all this mean?
Absolutely nothing. But it sure beats watching another political ad.
UA receiver returns
After idolizing Trojans, Jackson out to beat 'em
Johnny Jackson has yet to play a full game with the Arizona Wildcats this season.
But nobody's had a better quarter.
Jackson, a walk-on wide receiver, caught nine passes for 67 yards in the second quarter of Arizona's 54-48 overtime loss to Stanford earlier this month. Four of his second-quarter grabs went for first downs. Jackson's hot start was dashed when he suffered a high-ankle sprain that forced him from the game. After taking the last two weeks to recover, Jackson - a redshirt freshman from San Diego - figures to start today against USC. Here are four things about Jackson, in his own words:
1. "I've never caught nine passes in a quarter, not even in high school - but I played mostly running back there. I had been waiting to get in and just contribute. I felt like I did all right. I ran the wrong routes sometimes. … I could have done more."
2. "I've always been a huge USC fan. So has my whole family, even my grandpa with O.J. (Simpson) and me with Reggie Bush - Reggie grew up in the San Diego area, where I'm from, and so did Dillon Baxter, who used to be at USC, too."
3. "In Pop Warner, everybody wanted to be Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and Dwayne Jarrett and guys like that. … My favorite player? I would say Reggie Bush. Just the things he did on the field, you've never seen it before. Looking back, it's like, 'How did he do it?' He was a special player."
4. "I've been looking up to those guys. I've always wanted to be on the higher stage. I think we have a chance to do that against SC. Everybody's looking out for revenge. We all think we can play. SC overlooked all of us."
USC at Arizona • 12:30 p.m. • Channel 9 • 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Spanish)
Game-day breakdown by Ryan Finley
Today's game will mark a showdown between USC's stellar special teams and a UA unit that has improved in recent weeks. Here's where they rank:
Category USC's numbers (Pac-12 ranking) Arizona's numbers (Pac-12 ranking)
Punts 39.6 yards per punt (5th) 39.8 yards per punt (2nd)
Punt returns 10.5 yards per return (6th) 11.5 yards per return (4th)
Kickoff returns 25.6 yards per return (1st) 15.8 yards per return (11th)
Field goals 6 for 9 (tied for 5th) 7 for 12 (8th)
PATs 28 for 29 (6th) 33 for 33 (tied for 1st)
Arizona vs. USC, by the numbers
Arizona's all-time record against USC.
The UA's last win over the Trojans in Tucson. The Trung Canidate-led Wildcats prevailed 31-24.
The Wildcats' record against the Trojans since 2007. USC won in 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2011; Arizona won in Los Angeles in 2009.
USC's average margin of victory in those four UA losses.